A sore throat is the pain, scratchiness or irritation of the throat, which often worsens when we swallow. The most common cause of a sore throat is a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu. It is also known as pharyngitis. It is mostly caused by a virus and it resolves on its own. Strep throat is a less common type of a sore throat which is caused by bacteria and it requires treatment with antibiotics to prevent the complications. Other less common causes of a sore throat might need more complex treatment. Most of the sore throats heal without complications, but they should not be ignored because some of the sore throats may develop into serious illnesses.
It can be either chronic or acute. Acute sore throats are more frequent than chronic sore throats. They emerge all of a sudden and can last from three to about seven days. A chronic sore throat lasts much longer than an acute sore throat. It is a symptom of an unsettled primary condition or disease, such as a sinus infection.
Causes of a sore throat
There are several causes of a raw throat and some of them are as follows:
- Viral infection: This is the most common cause of a raw throat. There are several different viruses which can lead to the common cold and an upper respiratory infection. Certain viruses such as the influenza virus, Epstein-Barr virus, mumps virus, parainfluenza virus, and Coxsackie A virus can also cause a sore throat.
- Bacterial infection: It is a less common cause of a raw throat. A bacterial infection can lead to strep throat, retropharyngeal abscess, tonsillitis, peritonsillar abscess, epiglottitis, and diphtheria.
- Toxins/Irritants: A range of substances such as cigarette smoke, noxious airborne chemicals, and air pollution can lead to a sore throat. Medical conditions such as allergies, postnasal drip, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), cough and tumors can cause a sore throat.
- Trauma/Injury: Any direct injury to the throat or neck area can cause a sore throat. Sometimes, a foreign body, such as a bone or piece of food can cause a sore throat. Intense yelling or screaming can bother the throat and larynx, which may also lead to a sore throat.
When to see the doctor?
Individuals who are suffering from a sore throat and have the following symptoms, then they should immediately visit the doctor:
- Difficulty in opening the mouth
- Severe neck pain or stiffness
- Bleeding from the throat or blood seen in the saliva
- A severe sore throat
- Difficulty in swallowing saliva or any form liquid
- Difficulty in breathing
- Swelling or redness of the neck
Risk factors for Sore throat
A throat infection can happen to anyone of any age. There are some factors that increase the risk.
- Age: Children and teens are most likely to have sore throats. Children are also more likely to suffer from strep throat. It is the most common bacterial infection associated with a throat.
- Exposure to tobacco smoke: Smoking and secondhand smoke can bother the throat. The use of tobacco products can also increase the risk of cancers of the throat, voice box and mouth.
- Allergies: Seasonal allergies or ongoing allergic reactions to dust, pet dander or molds. It increases the risk of developing a sore throat more likely.
- Exposure to chemical irritants: The particles in the air that get exposed from burning fossil fuels and common household chemicals can cause throat irritation.
- Chronic or frequent sinus infections: Drainage from the nose can irritate the throat or can also spread the infection.
- Close quarters: Viral and bacterial infections can spread easily anywhere people gather, whether it is in the child care centers, classrooms, offices or airplanes.
- Weakened immunity: Individuals who have low immunity power can get infected by the infections easily. The most common causes of lowered immunity include fatigue, treatment with steroids or chemotherapy drugs, HIV, stress, diabetes, and poor diet.
Diagnosis of a Sore throat
For the diagnosis of the cause of throat, a doctor will obtain a thorough history of the illness and conduct a physical exam. Based on this estimation, the cause of a sore throat can be properly determined. Because most cases of a sore throat are related to infection, the doctor also may need to conduct testing. The testing will be done to find the difference between a bacterial cause of infection and a viral cause of infection. If there is suspicion of the strep throat, the doctor will perform a throat swab in order to run a quick antigen detection test which is also known as a rapid strep test. The results of this test can take only minutes and can normally be obtained during the visit. A throat culture can be sent to the lab for the ultimate evaluation of strep throat if the early rapid strep test is negative, and these results are typically obtainable within 24 to 48 hours.
Usually, no extra testing is required, but it depends on the details of the history and the findings on the physical exam, the doctor may need to obtain further testing to help determine the cause of a sore throat. Blood tests may be ordered, and radiologic imaging like X-ray or CT scan of the throat and neck area may also be necessary to estimate for other different causes of a sore throat.
Treatment of a Sore throat
The treatment of throat depends upon its cause. There are many home remedies for treating throat. Some of them are:
- Gargling with warm salt water.
- Avoid allergens and irritants.
- Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen for reducing the inflammation.
- Drinking warm fluids like tea, water, and soups.
- Using a humidifier to moisten the dry air.
- Taking throat lozenges.
- Treating bacterial infections: If a sore throat is caused by the bacterial infection, then the antibiotics must be taken prescribed by the doctor. A full course of medication should be taken even if the symptoms are gone.
For more detailed information about pharyngitis, see the full video below:
Prevention of a Sore throat
A sore throat is preventable. As we have already mentioned, infection is the common cause of a sore throat. So, whether a sore throat is caused by a viral infection or strep throat, there are certain measures which can be taken to prevent acquiring and transmitting the infection.
- Avoiding close contact with the people who are already infected with a viral upper respiratory tract infection.
- Keeping good personal hygiene habits, frequent and careful hand washing, will also help to decrease transmission.
- Avoid sharing personal objects such as towels, cups, etc. with the infected people and encourage them to cover their mouth when sneezing or coughing. Also, encourage them to frequently wash their own hands.
- Avoid touching potentially infected surfaces such as computers, phones, or doorknobs.
- Those individuals who are taking antibiotics for a bacterial infection should be encouraged to finish their full course of antibiotics in order to completely eliminate the infection and decrease disease transmission.
- Avoiding cigarette smoke, pollutants and noxious airborne chemicals can help to prevent a raw throat.